Although they adored the 1950s track house they remade with Cali cool style, it’s no surprise that Ashley and Josh Cullion jumped at the chance to sell it and purchase 5.6-acres of a former dairy farm just down the street. Ashley, after all, is a landscape architect, and James a real estate broker with a penchant for design. “The land spoke to us the minute we stepped foot on it,” says Ashley Cullion, of the pastoral plot that sits along a tidal river in Warwick, Rhode Island.
The pair engaged Estes Twombly + Titrington Architects to design a modern single-story home with easy access to outdoor living space. “A single-level dwelling was key to getting a strong, seamless connection between the interior and the patio,” Ashley Cullion explains.
Architect Adam Titrington understood their focus. The low-slung house, which is barely perceptible from the road, has a flat roof, horizontal ipe siding, and zero embellishment. The front facade’s oversized windows look straight through the house to the wooded landscape. Floor-to-ceiling glass on the back aligns with a bluestone patio that steps down to the pool. “They weren’t looking for a statement exterior,” Titrington says. “They wanted the house to meld with the surroundings.”
Set deep into the lot on the site of an old barn that was terraced into the gently sloping hillside, the house takes advantage of the river views, which are visible from every south-facing room. Ashley Cullion planted masses of prairie dropseed around the house as a nod to the coastal farmland. The grasses also help transition the lawn surrounding the patio to the meadows beyond it. “The meadow stands tall into early winter then patinas, changing to a straw color,” Josh Cullion says. “The birds love it; they eat the seeds and hang out in there and play.”
Titrington’s design was also informed by the couple’s desire for an open floor plan that links to the patio as well as their taste for blending New England coastal with contemporary California architecture. “The house is broken into a series of linked pavilions, with a substantial central great room and separate bedroom wings,” Titrington says. Were it not for the passageways that connect the main space to the bedrooms on either side of it — enclosure essential for New England winters — the bedrooms would be distinct buildings. “The house seems like it could be in California, but because it’s New England, everything is attached,” Titrington says. The setup also provides privacy for the bedrooms and opportunity for more corner windows.
As with the exterior, Titrington limited the material palette on the interior. There are maple floors and cabinets, sugar pine trims, and pine window frames, all done in a low-VOC matte finish. “The clients initially mentioned white oak, but maple is naturally lighter,” he says. White plaster walls enhance the Zen sensibility that the Cullions became drawn to during a visit to Japan.
The couple, who have a son named Leo, entertain often so an open concept was important. “We wanted the living room, dining room, and kitchen to be the nucleus,” Ashley Cullion says. Titrington divided the airy space with 11-foot ceilings into horizontal bands, which run perpendicular to the wall of plate glass windows and large slider that connect the room to the patio.
A kitchen with box-like cabinetry and a no-nonsense stainless steel backsplash and countertops anchors one end of the room. A barely-there linear light fixture is suspended over the island and an elliptical white pendant glows over a contemporary powder-coated aluminum table. A built-in floating console extends from the kitchen along the front-facing wall, dipping beneath the European tilt-and-turn windows, and dips again to form a bench that turns the corner toward the wood stove. “We prefer wood stoves over masonry fireplaces because the performance is more efficient, producing a lot more heat for the house,” Titrington says.
While the couple adores how the great room spills out to the patio and down to the pool, Ashley Cullion points to another feature that is perhaps her very favorite. “I think the best part is our bedroom suite,” she says. “It has its own terrace with an outdoor shower.”
Landscape Architect: Traverse Landscape Architects, traversela.com
Contractor: The Grenier Group, 401-527-0524
Cabinetmaker: Jutras Woodworking, jutraswoodworking.com
Structural Engineer: Yoder & Tidwell, 401-751-2460
Marni Elyse Katz is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to [email protected]